Retroficiency offers a quick solution for building energy audits

Retroficiency offers a quick solution for building energy audits

As a private equity investor, Bennett Fisher spent 10 years buying and selling properties. He found that the 30-day escrow period was not enough time to properly assess the buildings' energy efficiency, unless buyers spent large sums on the process.

He also kept hearing that owners, spurred by their investors or tenants, wanted to make their buildings more energy efficient.

Energy efficiency evaluation for commercial buildings typically is a drawn-out, costly process where building professionals spend long periods walking the building as they assess and research ways to save energy.

With more than one-third of buildings in the U.S eligible for retrofits, Fisher thought that there weren't enough auditors and engineers to tap the potential and that there had to be a more efficient way of going about it.

"There's a $400 billion market for retrofits and only a portion of that is looked at today," he said.

This sparked the idea for Retroficiency, which he co-founded in 2009 while at Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

After bootstrapping it for a year, Fisher got funding from Point Judith Capital, which also invested in Zipcar, and World Energy Solutions.

Retroficiency provides software for utilities and building managers that can help them evaluate thousands of energy efficiency measures in minutes.

"Typical measures are old fashioned and manual, where they count light bulbs and generate multipage reports that no one reads. This can be costly, from $5,000 to $50,000. Our software does the same thing, but reduces cost and time. Our goal is to scale energy efficiency in commercial buildings," Fisher said.

There are two ways to ramp up efficiency measures -- with high-level data on building occupancy, light fixtures etc, or with energy consumption data.

Fisher's company developed a building efficiency intelligence platform that helps clients assess measures virtually by interpolating 12 months of interval energy consumption data, without physical walkthroughs.

The platform also offers an automated energy audit, a flexible on-demand software solution that facility managers can use to input building details. It helps clients speed up the input process, streamlines the data and generates a customized audit report with recommendations in minutes.

"With our automated energy audit, we build high level data based on thousands of energy audits and we can modify it to show what happens when occupancy hours go up or down or when other aspects change," Fisher said.

The company entered the market by going after large end-users -- mostly owners, but that was a harder sell. It quickly found opportunities with service providers, tapping the software as a service model, which has allowed it to scale up and find traction.

Clients include Jones Lang LaSalle, which uses Retroficiency's software to streamline the energy audit process for its clients and help them determine which retrofits to implement, and SAIC, a McLean, Virg. based technology and engineering company with numerous, large government contracts.

Fisher said Jones Lang LaSalle has an internal energy services division that does audits, assessments and implementation for its large clients.

"Their process is very manual, then they generate spreadsheet reports. We gave them tools to streamline and scale it up, since they have clients worldwide."

SAIC was looking for tools to help customers like the Department of Defense, one of its biggest clients with 300,000 buildings worldwide.

"To put that many boots on the ground would be huge, but using our tool they can tackle it much more efficiently," Fisher said.

Clients take out an annual subscription based on the number of buildings for which they deploy the software or pay by the project, if they don't have too many buildings.

The automated energy audit costs under a $1,000 per building and the price scales down with volume, Fisher said.

Retroficiency offers prospective clients a trial: A company that is considering whether to use the solution identifies a building for which Retroficiency generates an audit report with efficiency recommendations. The prospective client can then review that report against its own data on the building. Fisher said Jones Lang LaSalle wouldn't have become a client, if Retroficiency hadn't passed the test.

Retroficiency recently published a study after assessing more than 80 million square feet of buildings, by leveraging team members' experience and data drawn from other sources.

Chief among the findings:

  1. Energy savings opportunities vary greatly across a portfolio of buildings, so companies should focus on prioritizing buildings instead of investing in deep assessments of buildings that may not offer up big savings;
  2. Traditional metrics don't always correlate to potential savings. "People tend to prioritize their building portfolio according to an EnergyStar score, but a score of 60 does not necessarily mean it has more savings potential," explained Mike Kaplan, vice president of marketing at Retroficiency. "Many think 'I am 25 percent less efficient and I have the opportunity to save 25 percent from that building' but that's not true."
  3. Don't overlook smaller, older buildings in favor of large ones, since smaller buildings often offer the best savings percentage.
  4. Look beyond lighting and heating, when it comes to retrofits. "We evaluate thousands of energy conservation measures and there are opportunities in ventilation and plug loads that are often missed," Kaplan said.

Fisher said the company has 17 employees and is growing rapidly. He shared some lessons learned from selling to big companies?

"The obvious one is that big companies take a lot of patience, the sales cycle is very long. Second, which was an eye opener for me is that there 25 potential sales to be made within any of these companies -- the groups are not always well connected and they don’t talk to each other, so we can have multiple sales from different divisions, because they have different pain points."